With the summer fast approaching, most of us are already immersed in the full heat of the sun. Here in Arizona it’s a little hot already, and sun protection and sun care is always a hot topic, especially since we have sun for more months out of the year than others in the United States.
Like almost every other topic in health and wellness, there is always a TON of research and opinions thrown out there with sunscreen, sunblock, cancer and even sun care ingredients.
Do we wear sunblock?
What’s the difference between sunblock and sunscreen?
Should we be outside without ANY protection?
Is it safe to wear commercial products? Do we cover our body? What do we do?
I resource to EWG 2015 Sunscreen Guide as a basic standard, but I also look for other resources that can help me as well. Multiple resources are necessary, even though EWG is pretty comprehensive.
Sunscreen AND Sunblock
Both items are similar but work in different ways – and if you are buying these products you need to know the difference between the two.
Sunscreens: Use chemical absorbers to protect your skin from sunburns and UV rays by absorbing UV energy. They have to be absorbed INTO your skin to ramp up their ability to protect you though – so in almost every case, the sunscreen will say “apply 20-30 minutes before exposure”. When you apply sunscreen a chemical reaction takes place between those ingredients + he rays to protect your body from the sun’s effects. (Src)
Sunblocks: Use physical blockers to protect your skin from sunburns and UV rays. As of 2013, the FDA bans the use of the word “Sunblock” on sun care products. Unlike sunscreen, sunblock just reflects and scatters UV light. Instead of taking up to 20-30 minutes to work, they work immediately – as the ingredients sit on the skin’s surface, and they contain either Zinc Oxide or, Titanium Dioxide – both are slightly different.
In terms of effectiveness, zinc oxide has a slight edge over titanium dioxide, according to SmartSkinCare. Titanium dioxide is effective at blocking ultraviolet-B and short-wave ultraviolet-A rays, but it is less effective than zinc dioxide at blocking long ultraviolet-A rays. Zinc oxide’s ability to block different types of rays makes it one of the most effective sun protection products on the market at fighting the sun’s rays. (Source)
Avoiding Commercial Products
Since chemical based sunscreens have to be absorbed into your body the risk is a little higher – as those chemicals enter your system instead of being there on the surface.
The most worrisome ingredient is Oxybenzone – – which bioaccumulates and is found in 97% of American’s bloodstreams, mother’s milk (risk to the unborn) and more. (Src)
The problems with Oxybenzone are those below:
- Mimics estrogen and causes hormone disruption (Src)
- Can cause allergic reactions
- Does not biodegrade into our environment (Src)
Oxybenzone is a derivative of benzophenone, a highly toxic and hazardous substance. Oxybenzone is relatively easy to obtain and cheap, so it is one of the most commonly used chemical UV filters in conventional cosmetics. (Src)
Consideration for Natural Options
When you are considering a natural, safer option, you’ll also usually encounter those that claim that these “homemade DIY creams” are not effective and should NEVER be considered.
Why so much confusion? Any time you have an alternative to a commercial product that is tied to profits there is always going to be dispute as to their effectiveness. It’s always important to know too, that although scientific studies ARE done on commercial items, they are often funded by the very people that are producing those products.
So few studies are ever done on natural or alternative products (for many reasons!)
In the U.S., for many years, sun care items screened out UVB rays. While almost all protect you against UVB, only a few protect you against UVA rays – and the most dangerous rays are the UVA rays.
Oddly enough, UVB rays are the rays that your body needs to produce vitamin D in your skin. For protection against UVA rays, you’ll always want a sunscreen that contains Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide – because you can’t determine the sun care’s ability to protect you from looking at the bottle and seeing an SPF factor alone.
You just can’t.
But if you put on cream every time you are in the sun, you can sometimes do more harm than good – because you are merely blocking your body’s ability to produce vitamin D. And that vitamin D is needed to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Being out in the sun for short periods of time is actually GOOD for your body – it boosts natural vitamin D production, which helps protect your skin. Spending hours in the rays though, is not healthy .. no matter what type of cream or lotion you put on your body. But avoiding it the sun altogether isn’t helping you either.
Chemical based sun products are preventing your body from producing vitamin D (which is a natural function of being outside in the sun). And thus, the opportunity to develop skin cancers actually increases. (Src)
To make the most of the sun …
- Expose large amounts of your body to the sun for a relatively short 20-30 minute period daily.
- If you are planning on being in the sun for longer, then use a wide brimmed hat or an umbrella – and apply cream ONLY after your body has had 20-30 minutes sufficient time to produce vitamin D.
- It’s always best to wear clothing that protects you from the harmful effects of the sun – most notably: your face, using a wide-brimmed bat.
- Then take it a step further and eat foods rich in omega 6 an omega 3 oils as they will give you the protection you need (antioxidants) to protect your body against the free radicals caused by too much sun.
So what is Healthy?
With all this being said… do you wear sun protection or do you not? Do you go outside in the sun or do you stay in? If you go outside, what is best – doing nothing? Or over-applying?
This is what we know:
- We NEED vitamin D from the sun for optimum health.
- Sunscreen and sunblock block vitamin D
- We must have some time in the sun, unprotected, for our body to produce sufficient vitamin D
- Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that are harmful and dangerous – do your research before using
The best option is to realize that your body needs to balance time in sun with the risk for your skin type – we need sunshine each day, unprotected, for vitamin D production. After that daily allowance, we ALSO need protection.
In the end, wear appropriate clothing when outside after that daily dose of sun, and be smart enough to plan accordingly for sun exposure if you are out somewhere that calls for lengthy times in the rays. Always be prepared with a natural sunscreen (or, a homemade variety) for longer periods outside, and don’t make the habit of assuming you can be outside for very lengthy periods just because you have sunscreen on.